No one was more shocked than Cara Koenen to see a missed call from Samsung Australian Diamonds coach Lisa Alexander.
The Sunshine Coast Lightning foundation player had played just 10 games over two seasons – many of them off the bench – so an invitation to the national netball squad’s training camp wasn’t something she was expecting.
After the off-season departure of Caitlin Bassett, Koenen’s priority was earning more Suncorp Super Netball court time with the Lightning.
“I thought I would have been off the radar so it’s an honour to be included. But it just shows the selectors are watching all levels,” Koenen said.
“I was really surprised but, on reflection, I’ve grown a little in self-confidence knowing that Netball Australia is looking at the next generation.”
After returning Alexander’s call, the goal shooter was one of five invitees chosen to attend the five-day camp at the Netball Australia Centre of Excellence in Canberra.
Her selection indicates Alexander is considering the make-up of the Diamonds beyond this year’s Netball World Cup in Liverpool.
Fellow invitees Kim Jenner, Matilda Garrett, Laura Scherian and Paige Hadley have also been marked for their potential.
The path towards national recognition has been a lonely and unusual one for Koenen who first fell in love with netball while growing up on Magnetic Island, a holiday destination off the coast of Townsville.
Her parents made countless sacrifices to send Koenen and her three siblings to The Cathedral School, and the young goaler had ample time to daydream of sinking winning goals during the 30-minute ferry commute to and from school.
More travel was required for training in Brisbane with Queensland’s underage representative sides, but it took her omission from the 2017 World Youth Cup team for the wayfarer to prioritise her netball development.
“That was a kick in the rear to commit more time to netball, and work on the psychology to get my confidence up and be the best that I can be,” the 22-year-old said.
Koenen is just seven subjects away from completing a double bachelors degree in Forensic Science and Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University.
For now, her focus is on making the jump from Lightning substitute to Super Netball regular and Diamonds contender.
Training alongside Bassett, Steph Wood, Caitlin Thwaites and Tegan Philip in Canberra has been an eye-opening experience.
She has already learned much from training under Bassett and Wood on the Sunshine Coast, and now the opportunity has arisen to hear from World Cup-winning coach Alexander.
Even the AIS’s sport science facilities served as a reminder of the level of professionalism demanded at the top.
“There’s cold boots, compression boots, spas, I’m sitting outside the recovery centre now,” she said.
“The Diamonds is such a professional environment. But for some one who’s never been involved before, they’re really welcoming and have embraced the sisters in arms spirit.”